We decided to go to Target. We had a two year old toddler and a three-week old baby, and we decided to go to Target. And not just to pick up a couple of things. No, we were going to “do a bit of shopping,” and “look around.”
Now before you come to any premature conclusions, let me stress one simple but important fact: it seemed like a good idea at the time – which I think is the single best catch-all excuse mankind has ever devised. To me, it provides a satisfying answer to two of the most perplexing questions that all people eventually ask themselves; namely why we started World War 1, and why Cheez Whiz was invented. Nevertheless, there we were, climbing out of the car, unbuckling a myriad of buckles, snaps, zippers, and locks, and walking towards the glowing red store.
Before this all began, I had imagined a leisurely stroll through the store, coffee in hand, casually picking out some fantastic deals and putting them in the bright red cart that held a sleeping baby in the car seat and a smiling, obedient toddler. In this fantasy, my two-year old, Jackson, is humming Mozart’s 40th symphony and thinking about how content he is with all of his current toys, periodically tapping me on the forearm to let me know that he loves me and that I am a great father; my wife is happily shopping for clothes, those unicorn clothes that all womenfolk chase after, the ones that fit perfectly and always look amazing – she finds two of everything and they’re all half price.
This is roughly what I was picturing:
In and out in 35 minutes, under a hundred dollars, and we’re laughing all the way home before the bleary-eyed herd of 9-to-5’ers kick off a couple hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
As you can tell, I have a rather loose grip on reality.
We had been in the store only five minutes and already the warning signs were everywhere. For one, our daughter Addilyn was wideawake. It’s been cold outside so she wears this fuzzy bear suit that leaves only about three square inches of exposed skin – you know, so that she can breathe – and wraps the rest of her little body tight like a hug. From behind, she looks just like a teddy bear, and whenever she is in it she sleeps like a rock. Or like a rock would sleep if rocks were alive and were heavy sleepers. The fact that she was awake did not bode well.
But as an eternal optimist, I held out hope that my fantasy shopping trip would come at least partially true. The breaking point, that moment when all pretense is finally and completely abandoned, happened about thirty-five minutes in, right around the time I had imagined we would be leaving. I was holding my screaming daughter with one hand while I pushed the cart with the other. My son had been helping me push the cart, but then he tripped and fell on his elbow, which set him off crying in a kind of call and response gospel moment with his sister. I wasn’t able to pick him up what with my arms full of screaming baby, so we set off down the interminably long and obnoxiously shiny aisle towards the women’s clothes section, towards our only hope: Mommy.
On that long walk, with shoppers and store clerks giving me a wide berth as if I was holding a couple of lit Molotov cocktails, I realized that it had been a bad idea to come here, and a very bad idea to think we could do anything more than run in and grab the bare essentials we needed to survive another week. Kind of like they do in those apocalyptic movies when the zombie infestation or tidal wave is coming; which, aside from the pushing of old ladies and the fear of imminent death, is my ideal way to shop.
Devastation was everywhere. The coffee we had brought in was lost long ago, set down on some shelf somewhere while we wiped a nose or patted a bum, and instantly forgotten like an important paper from the government about your taxes. The cart was literally full, what with the massive car seat in the main section, laden with all of our coats, mittens and hats, and our few purchases crammed into the nooks and crannies and the top section.
Kailtyn had apparently heard the wailing duo (I hadn’t yet joined in to make it a trio but I was tempted) while trying on clothes in the change room. She came out and administered the love and pity I had been unable to provide for Jackson. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been faring much better, finding no clothes that fit well and feeling worse about herself for the effort. I pleaded for us to surrender and go home.
We needed an exfiltration plan, to cut our losses and live to fight another day. We decided on a course of action. Kaitlyn took Addie to the family washroom to change her diaper while I took Jackson with me to go pay for our stuff. Well over a hundred dollars later, with no clothes to show for it aside from six pairs of baby socks, Jackson and I went to the family washroom to check on the girls.
I heard a familiar shrill scream as I walked towards the washrooms, and realized that Addilyn was making her displeasure known in the loudest possible manner. Then the screaming stopped. I tried the door but it was locked. Kaitlyn opened it with her one free hand and pulled me in while she held Addie up with the other. She was feeding Addie milk, and I’m not talking about the kind that comes from cows. This was a clear departure from our plan; an unexpected delay. I couldn’t cope – I panicked. Kaitlyn was stressed, and in the chaos and confusion, we decided, for some reason – probably because it seemed like a good idea at the time – that I should run to the car to drop off our bags, leaving Jackson with Kait and baby Addie in the cramped, overly bright, and not overly clean bathroom.
I ran to the car, dumped the bags of stuff I wished I had never heard about in the first place, and ran back to the family washroom. As I rounded the corner towards the bathrooms, I heard crying again. But this time it was Jackson’s voice.
I knocked and Kaitlyn opened the door again. This time she looked quite exasperated, like someone forced to stay in a tiny room the size of a Dilbert cubicle with two children under the age of three. She explained to me how Jackson had been walking around touching everything, the way toddlers do, and accidentally set off the motion-activated high-velocity hand-dryer, which sounds not unlike a Boeing 747 during takeoff. The poor kid had been startled half to death and started crying. I entered the fray and distracted Jackson from his recent trauma by getting him to put on his coat, hat, and mittens.
Kaitlyn, realizing that her own coat was still in the cart immediately outside the bathroom door and therefore perilously exposed to theft and, even worse, uninvited alterations, said accusingly, “You left my coat out there?!” I was completely overwhelmed by this point, and my reply was heavy on bite and light on grace. We had a frank exchange of views on the subject at hand, as married couples do from time to time, and in order to spare the reader the uninteresting details of our conflict, and to leave room for some doubt as to who acted more childishly (I will give you a hint: it wasn’t Kaitlyn), I will close this scene and move on to the brief finale.
There was a silence, a heavy silence, which enveloped the car as we started home. In these kinds of situations, it always takes a bit of time for things to cool down and for wisdom and perspective to take their place. Lucky for me I had plenty of time to come around to such a place because we were stuck in the stinking armpit of rush hour traffic for over an hour, but at least the kids were asleep.